About etiquetteer.com

Etiquetteer is known socially as Robert B. Dimmick. A native of Louisiana, Mr. Dimmick emigrated North for education, finally settling in that Athens of America, Boston, Massachusetts.

Mr. Dimmick spent his childhood attending weddings, reading Emily Post’s Etiquette, and being teased and taunted by other children for minding his mother, taking everything the preacher said seriously, and generally being a Good Boy. This ultimately led to an aversion to organized sports, television, and popular culture in general, and definite opinions about everything from restaurant dining to wedding dresses to historic preservation. Mr. Dimmick believes in the sartorial legacy of President Harry S Truman, getting out of the way of oncoming traffic quickly, and the tasteful expression of free speech. He is, all too often, willing to express an opinion on just about anything.

By day, Mr. Dimmick plans class reunions for one of those great big universities. By night he enjoys club openings, dinner parties, memoirs of the Fabulous, yoga, the music of the American songbook, and spirited conversation with friends. He invites you to behave with Perfect Propriety whether you want to or not.


On the Importance of a Lovely Note, Vol. 14, Issue 35

October 6th, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

This morning two things happened that made Etiquetteer think about the expression of thanks.

First, a series of text messages arrived on Etiquetteer’s flip phone – quite possibly the pocket watch of its generation – from a friend expressing thanks for a gift. These were written very much in the style of a Lovely Note, with salutation, body, and closing, but via texts. They were a lovely way to begin the morning.

Second, discussing this with a colleague, she confessed that she photographed the draft of a thank-you note to transmit to someone who had given a gift, knowing that the gift-giver would want to know the gift was received as quickly as possible – even though she hadn’t finished her draft. She asked if it could be Perfectly Proper to communicate thanks only electronically.

Etiquetteer would be a fool not to acknowledge that our means of communication have evolved, just as they have at other periods of civilization. The printing press and engraving changed the forms of how word got around, most notably to Etiquetteer with the invention of the engraved calling card in the early 19th century*, and later on engraved stationery. Benjamin Franklin used his own printing press (imported illegally into France during the American Revolution) to print invitations to an Independence Day party in 1779**. In its turn the typewriter made its mark, then audiocassettes, the computer, the Internet, and now, saints preserve us, the smartphone. In most cases these innovations reduced the amount of time between sending and receiving, from weeks, to days, to seconds.

But what we gain in time we lose in those old-fashioned qualities that we shouldn’t think of as old-fashioned, Grace and Charm – and sometimes in the appearance of Sincerity, too. A text message or an email can appear so perfunctory, no matter how many fonts one might be allowed to use, no matter through what form of social media delivered. This is why Etiquetteer continues to advocate for the Lovely Note, because now it signifies even more how much one values the courtesy received, whether a gift, an invitation, or some other consideration. Whether the chastest white or cream foldover or the most garish greeting card, the Lovely Note demonstrates that one has taken some trouble to express gratitude. Because of its immediacy, the email or text has a place in Perfectly Proper correspondence, to inform gift-givers that their gifts have been received. But Etiquetteer still holds that it’s only the first of two places. The second should still be filled with that handwritten Lovely Note, especially for wedding gifts.

And yet  . . . and yet, it was so nice to get that barrage of texts this morning, since the sender expressed knowledgeable appreciation for the gift. No perfunctory “Got yr box, kthxbye” message this! Those of us who are recipients must be grateful for what acknowledgement we receive, and continue to lead by example.

Etiquetteer is certainly not the first person to express these sentiments, but the fact that it still needs to be expressed . . . well, it means you ought to run down to your local stationer and buy a box of notecards, that’s what it means.


*At first calling cards were blank and one wrote one’s name on each one. Later, “calling cards became more elaborate, sporting engraved names, mottoes, gilt edges, and pictures.” Parlor Politics, by Catherine Allgor, page 121.

**The Great Improvisation, by Stacy Schiff, opposite page 300. It is interesting to note that Franklin included the instruction “An Answer if you please.”

Straw Hat Day and Felt Hat Day, Vol. 14, Issue 34

September 15th, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

Earlier this year Etiquetteer was reading Erik Larson’s fascinating Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, when a sentence turned Etiquetteer’s attention completely away from the story. “They found a city steaming with heat – 91 degrees on Tuesday, April 27, with four days yet to go before “Straw Hat Day,” Saturday, May 1, when a man could at last break out his summer hats.”

Straw Hat Day?! Etiquetteer had never heard of such a thing. Was this really an annual, historical ritual for American gentlemen, or had Mr. Larson been hoodwinked by the Internet, which is always making up holidays like National Underwear Day?

Turns out Straw Hat Day was indeed an actual, annual occurrence, with a date selected locally for the gentlemen to retire their fedoras and homburgs for the season, substituting them with their “skimmers” and panamas. A New York Times editorial of May 20, 1908, fulminates against those wearing their hats earlier than June 15, which was Straw Hat Day that year. “One or two warm days in the month of May do not justify the appearance of straw hats. The ancestors of this blind and impetuous generation who set down June 15 as straw-hat day considered the vagaries of the climate.” The article suggests a rather folksy way the date gets determined. “The straw hat properly comes in with the strawberry. All our strawberries as yet come from the South, and it would be reasonable for the rushers of the Northern season to go South to wear their straw hats.”

It would follow that, if there was a day to get out one’s straw hats, there would be another day to put them back. Another Times article, this from September 16, 1900, indicates that September 15 was Straw Hat Day, and that those who did wear straw hats had them destroyed, particularly on the stock exchange. “Just because it was Sept. 15 some of brokers on the Stock Exchange wore their straw hats once more in order to get them smashed, and they were not disappointed. The ostracized hats lasted about fifteen minutes after the opening of the Exchange.”

Later in the same article, Etiquetteer was chagrined that, even in History, there were rebels not paying attention the rules. “All through the financial district there were to be found individuals who wore straw hats, despite the cooler weather, just to show that they were not slaves to the custom of retiring straw hats on a given date, regardless of the climatic conditions.” Etiquetteer knows with what glee certain readers will read this – those readers who ostentatiously wear white shoes after Labor Day and before Memorial Day.

In the 21st century, September 15 is now known as Felt Hat Day, so Etiquetteer will be lovingly retiring the boater until next May, and brushing off the black fedora for Another Autumn of Perfect Propriety. But for one last look back at what was truly a beautiful summer, allow Etiquetteer to leave you with this Perfectly Proper Portrait by Joe Williams of JWLenswerk. Now let’s all put May 15, 2016, on our calendars for Straw Hat Day.


Invitations to Fund-Raisers, Vol. 14, Issue 33

September 9th, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

I understand that replying to invitations is Perfectly Proper. But I receive a number of invitations to fund-raising events, some from organizations I strongly support and some from organizations I rarely or never support. Do I need to RSVP when I’m not going to an event?

Dear Invited:

There’s a difference between a strictly social invitation and an invitation to a fund-raiser. One is invited to the first solely for the pleasure of one’s company, but to the latter for the potential of one’s largesse. Other etiquette writers have suggested that one need not respond to invitations for gallery openings or for Home Retail Opportunities – to buy, for instance, jewelry or kitchen supplies – from a friend who facilitates buying parties in private homes. No matter how sociable the event, its real purpose is for one to spend money. Etiquetteer would suggest that this, too, applies to fund-raising events, though their sociability becomes more and more impacted with the accretion of speeches and live auctions.

But as with everything else, there are exceptions. If you are invited personally by a friend to buy tickets to fill a table at some big affair, a Gentle Decline after the first appeal will save you from second, third, and fourth appeals.

You may wish to use the reply card to send a request to be dropped from their invitation lists (as opposed to their mailing lists altogether), writing “I prefer to support your organization in absentia.”


Online Discretion Offline, Vol. 14, Issue 32

September 1st, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

I was recently on vacation with my husband. We were at a local bar in [Insert Name of Resort Town Popular With Those Who Have Achieved Equal Marriage Here] when a guy walked by, turned around, looked at me and said “[Insert Name of Social Media Platform* Here]!” I was quite uncomfortable. While my husband knows I’m using this social media, he assumes the worst about being on it. For social media etiquette when recognizing someone from here, I would assume it would be alright to say hello to someone if they were by themselves, but if not, you may not want to bring something up about their online life. Your thoughts?

Dear Online:

Oddly enough, Etiquetteer had a somewhat similar experience earlier this year while rushing through an art exhibition to be Perfectly Punctual for a friend’s presentation. In Etiquetteer’s path appeared a handsome, vaguely familiar man. Only later did Etiquetteer recognize him as an online contact. The response Etiquetteer received to a private message apologizing for any perception of a snub reinforced how wise it was not to have approached him, because he wasn’t alone and claimed Social Awkwardness when Caught Off Guard.

Etiquetteer is fond of quoting “Discretion is the better part of valor,” and it really is a pity that your Social Media Contact  didn’t consider that. At the very least he could’ve said “Excuse me, but haven’t I seen your photo on [Insert Name of Social Media Platform Here]?” But a discreet bow or nod is best, or even no contact at all. Etiquetteer is reminded that, in the days before World War I when mistresses were much more established in the daily life of France, no man stepping out with his demimondaine would be acknowledged by his friends, and certainly not by the friends of his wife.

Still, in a barroom, where one’s Internal Monologue may have escaped with the help of Spiritous Liquors, that is a risk. Etiquetteer rather wonders if, when your online “friend” hailed with the name of your Shared Social Media, you responded “No, I pronounce my name Smith.”

Etiquetteer hopes that you experience no recurrence of this exposure of your Inner Life. But you may wish to make such a recurrence less embarrassing by reassuring your husband about the best aspects of being part of this Social Media Platform.

*Etiquetteer must hasten to add that this Social Media Platform in question was not – how shall Etiquetteer say this? – created for facilitating the most casual of encounters.

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